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Highland cattle and wild goats keep Norfolk nature in check

Highland cattle and Bagot goats are doing their bit for the wilding and protection of an area of outstanding natural beauty at Wiveton Downs, Blakeney Esker and nearby Salthouse and Kelling Heath.

Climate change - a really hot political topic - led to the creation of the ridge forming Blakeney Esker and Wiveton Downs at the end of the last Ice Age.

The geology of Norfolk saw successive climate changes between 2.5 million years ago and 900,000 years ago when the coastline was much further inland than it is today.

Temperatures fluctuated from a period when Norfolk was much cooler - more like Iceland today - to a time when the area basked in heat similar to that of the Mediterranean.

Huge glaciers scoured the landscape, scraping at the surface of the earth removing rocks and sand which had been laid down in successive layers by the seas encroaching and receding.

Meltwaters or rivers carrying sand and gravel flowed under the glaciers as the earth warmed towards the end of the Ice Age. This ‘terminal moraine’ was dumped by the retreating glaciers.

Salthouse and Kelling Heaths were also formed by rivers under the melting ice washing out and dumping sands and gravels to create these elevated ridges to the south and east of Blakeney.

Wiveton Downs and the Blakeney Esker is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a protected habitat for fauna and flora including the Nightjar.

Red squirrel can be seen at Salthouse Heath and both heathland sites are part of the North Norfolk Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The protected saltmarsh at Salthouse was described by world famous naturalist Sir Richard Attenborough as one of the most important places for wildlife and wildlife-watching in the world.

And both offer outstanding unspoilt views of the coast and surrounding countryside during the day.

Gorse flourishes on the soils and its dazzling yellow flowers burst into huge clumps of colour in spring. There are wonderful unspoilt walks with only the noise of birds and insects to disturb the peace.

Norfolk County Council and Wiveton Parish Council jointly manage Wiveton Downs and use Highland cattle, able to withstand Norfolk’s harsh winter weather, to control the spread of gorse in the winter.

The cattle, with their huge shaggy heads and enormous curved horns, are moved to lusher pastures for the summer.

But Salthouse Heath, four miles along the coast from Blakeney, keeps its gorse and undergrowth in check during the winter with nine nanny Bagot goats and three kids. This rare breed of goat does the same job at Salthouse while 15 billy goats are munching away at Kelling Heath.

The herd spends the summer cropping the cliffs at Cromer and posing for photographs for tourists.

The brilliant idea to use the goats has saved North Norfolk District Council £10,000 in habitat and rubbish control as well as proving a draw to tourists.

The Billy goats have been sent out on loan by the district council to Norfolk Wildlife Trust to tackle the gorse on the Breckland heaths near Thetford. This offers a new meaning to diversification within local authorities.

Highland cattle look out from the gorse bushes on Wiveton Downs near Blakeney
Fierce looking but friendly Highland cattle graze the gorse on Wiveton Downs near Blakeney

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